Over the last couple months, I have been moving from Georgia to Staten Island. In fact, I got here about a week and a half before Hurricane Sandy came. It seems harder to write about it than I expected it would be.
On page 84 – (about a quarter of the way down the scroll bar in the document)
Figure 42: New York City SLOSH Model
When I looked at this map today, my first question was – “doesn’t Mayor Bloomberg have this map on his wall somewhere?” and then my next question was, “didn’t the Mayor see the same weather channel reports and National Weather Service charts?” How could anyone with the authority to do so, refuse two days before the storm, to evacuate the low lying areas including the nursing homes, adult care facilities, specialized institutional care facilities, the elderly and disabled there, as well as every child living in harm’s way? How could that happen? Didn’t they have hurricane drills ahead of time, what to do in a flood information for the coastal areas, anything? And with this compelling information about the storm which was literally a thousand miles wide and coming in directly from the sea, how could so many life altering and life threatening decisions be made so incredibly wrong?
I don’t get it.
“And when water is moving at 30 or 40 miles an hour, like the tsunami that inundated northern Japan on Friday, the heaviness of water turns deadly. Imagine 1,700 pounds hitting you at that speed, and each cubic yard of water as another 1,700 pounds bearing down on you.”
The Destructive Power of Water
New York Times, March 12, 2011
“There is a tremendous amount of energy in a breaking ocean wave. Sometimes its force can equal a pressure of 2,721.5kg or 6,000 pounds per square foot.”
“There is a lot of water vapour in the earth’s atmosphere. If it could all be condensed and made into liquid water all at once, there would be enough water to cover the whole of the United States in 7.62m of water or the whole of Australia in 9.5m of water, or there would be an additional 7.6cm of water over the entire earth’s surface.”
“ A lightning bolt generates a temperature 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun. Every second, lightning strikes the earth a hundred times. These bolts are created from the 1,800 thunderstorms which are occurring at any given moment on the earth.”
Trivia about nature
And yet, I’ve been to storm ravaged areas in Staten Island, spoken with people who experienced it there and listened to what they believed was going to happen compared to what actually did – it just doesn’t make sense. How could they have believed that two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean with absolutely nothing to protect them – not barrier islands, not anything – there couldn’t possibly be 11 feet of water coming in on them all at once and very, very quickly? How could anyone have believed that they could get in their car and not be pushed around by that power to the point of having no control of that vehicle smashing into anything and everything, then drowning as well? Why wouldn’t these people in New York not know that the water would simply overtake their cars, buffet them around into everything even as their cars filled with the sea water along with all the toxic debris filling it and drown them?
It is very distressing to realize that people reasoned it out in ways that yielded death rather than safety for themselves, their families, their loved ones, their neighbors and their communities. There were so many people that we told to get out of those areas, that their family members told them to leave, the weather channel reporters and weather service told to leave, and regardless of how local borough offices, and mayors handled this – there were facts presented about this storm that said in every obvious manner – that people along the coast would have to leave in order to survive it.
But they wouldn’t. The people along the coasts and throughout Staten Island along with what seems like most of New York City’s boroughs reasoned out for themselves that based on another storm which had no relationship to the current facts presented to them about Hurricane Sandy – that there was no need to take this storm seriously, nor any need to leave their homes in order to be safe. It was insane and worse still, it was wrong. And to me, even worse still was that the reasoning was well made by intelligent people but the comparison to a previous storm rather than comparing the facts about the current one using basic common sense – cost a multitude of lives.
No, I didn’t go take pictures. I’m not here to take pictures and there are many, many photos and videos coming out of these areas by news crews, interested parties and by people who’ve come from all over the world to help.
What holds greater interest for me, is to find the ways that I can help and to discover ways to prevent any more unnecessary deaths and harm to come from this storm or from other events in the future. I don’t know why the Mayor and his staff did not know the danger held by this storm and that it was headed directly for these areas of New York City. Someone on his staff is either a complete moron or serves interests that consider human lives to be expendable and not worthy of the inconveniences involved with saving them, protecting them and getting them out of harm’s way. That isn’t only a tragedy and a shame for this city that is a crown jewel in America’s greatness, but it is also a travesty beyond all measure in the harms it has done to the individual lives, families, communities and futures of every New Yorker.
Worse still, the same thinking and misplaced comparative reasoning that cost these lives during the storm are being applied by members of the population in positions of leadership and opinion leaders within the communities to make decisions that are just as wrong. Whether it is to hurriedly rebuild before damaged structures are fully dried out, or to wander around the foundation under a house that is tilted up in the air above it, or to run a propane grill inside the house to keep warm while filling the house with carbon monoxide killing everyone inside – the continuing string of reasoning errors that are creating secondary dangers and costing lives is staggering. The unwillingness of those people affected by this storm, to even consider the good sense of leaders who are now saying to let structures dry out completely before rebuilding any of it – is horrifying.
People have already been through enough without adding more tragedies and difficulties to it and yet, that is what is happening in many cases because in reasoning it out – people seem to be using some other “normal” situation and how to handle it – in order to figure out how to handle this extraordinary, unusual and extreme one. That would work if there had been nearly no damage, if there had not been sewage, chemicals, oil and seawater plus debris inundate everything, if it was just a couple trees down or if it had only happened to two houses instead of two thousand or twenty thousand or however many it actually was. I’ve watched people pick up things out of that muck, not wash off their hands with a baby wipe or alcohol or anything and then continue the rest of their day – doing the next thing whatever it may be without even stopping to wash hands or to appreciate the significance of what their hands carried with them. There are people going into homes that are obviously in need of a sticker to legally express that the structure is not to be entered under any circumstance because they are structurally dangerous – and although many structures have been given those stickers – the teams have not literally gone from one address to another using the tax record nor checked all of them. Where people can still go into the home, even though it is structurally unsound and obviously dangerous – they are doing it to get “stuff”. And, worse than that – they are sending others into those structures to retrieve “stuff” which, however dear to them – can never, never be of greater value than the human life they are endangering – and which might be lost or permanently maimed retrieving whatever it is. But people are doing it anyway, and getting volunteers to go in those structures for them – there seems to be no stopping them.
People stayed to save their “stuff” from the storm or from feared looters getting it and now they are dead and their stuff is gone or destroyed anyway. People stayed to save their pets from the storm or because they didn’t believe they could take them to the shelters with them even though everyone was told that they could – and now their pets are drowned and they are dead as well. It downright makes me mad. And, yes – I’m choosing to be mad about it because it is outrageous that in a nation with public education for everyone, such hideously mucked up thinking could have done this. And, it is continuing to do this in further mucking up the situation even as people insist they know what they are doing and how to do it and tell everyone how f**ing long they have lived near the beach or been doing business or dealt with the kind of storms here or whatever other excuse they have for telling whoever it is, including me – to back off and let them do it the way they want to do it. They did that with staying in their homes before the storm, they did that when deciding in the middle of the storm to go walk to the store in the 90 mph wind gusts to get milk they didn’t buy beforehand, they did that when trying to buy batteries and candles and water after there were not any to buy anywhere, they did it when someone in the midst of the waves coming in on them said to come get in the car or in the boat or whatever – and they wouldn’t do it because their pet couldn’t go too, they did it when they were told to stay out of their house if it was structurally unsound and they didn’t want to hear it – AND – they did it when many people tried to volunteer including me – from the very day the storm winds subsided. I heard this morning that there were 50 people killed in a public school at Midland Beach when the people sheltering there were kept in the basement rather than on the second floor where the classrooms are – I hope it is not true, but it was told to me by people that live in that area and were there when the storm happened and the results of its aftermath were being discovered. I can see that it could very easily have happened that way, but I truly hope it is not true.
It has horrified me all day thinking about it – and thinking about the two houses side by side on one block where seven people died in one and seven died in the other. And across the street from that – at least one death, but even as the first wave came and some people tried to get them to come with them in a truck and get out of the area – they wouldn’t go. I just don’t understand how that could be. I don’t understand how it could be that taller structures in the area did not become a place of refuge for neighbors as the first waves came through making it obvious that there was a huge, real problem – not a little one. I just don’t get it – and these were all people that knew each other – that saw each other every day – that should have never stayed in the first place, but certainly could’ve gotten their neighbors upstairs into places that had two or three floors above the street and certainly quite a few feet above the 11 or 12 feet of water with its high waves on top of that. It could have been very possible, even at the beginning of the surge – to have brought those neighbors to a better chance of safety – but they didn’t. I just don’t want to understand that. It is simply going to have to be fixed. I don’t know how to do it – but some of this wrong stuff just has to be fixed before it gets anybody else killed or maimed.
Hurricane Sandy and its impacts were a known quantity, with known timing, known damage paths, and absolutely known storm surges, winds and potential to cause harm. There is no excuse for anyone to be surprised by the facts of this storm when it was known to be looming for days in advance. There are coffee shops where people can check the weather, computers, cellphones, apps, radios, neighbors telling them and hearing people on the subway or bus talking about it.